The health care reform law -- officially called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 -- was signed by the President in March 2010. As widely reported, the law makes substantial changes to the health insurance system in this country. Because many people currently receive their health insurance through their jobs, the law will have a significant impact on employers and employees alike. However, most changes don't take effect right away; this article explains some of the basic changes employees and employees can expect in the coming years. (For a general background on the health care reform law, see Nolo's article The Health Care Reform Bill: 10 Things to Know.)
In keeping with the health care reform law's emphasis on preventive health care and promoting healthy habits, it includes a provision requiring employers to allow new mothers to express breast milk. Employers must provide reasonable break time for nursing mothers to pump for up to one year after birth. The employer need not pay for this time unless state law requires it; many states already require employers to offer lactation breaks. The employer must provide private space (other than a bathroom) for this purpose.
Employers with fewer than 50 employees don't have to provide lactation breaks if doing so would impose an "undue hardship" -- meaning it would take significant expense or difficulty, considering the employer's size, structure, and resources.
Because the law didn't set a future date when the lactation break requirement will take effect, most experts agree that it became effective immediately upon the President's signature.
Beginning in tax year 2010, small businesses -- defined as those with fewer than 25 full-time employees (or equivalent) and an average annual salary of less than $50,000 per employee -- are eligible for a tax credit if they provide health insurance to their employees. To qualify, the business must pay at least half of the premium for covering a single person (not a family). Businesses can get a credit of up to 35% of the premiums they paid; nonprofit employers can get a credit of up to 25% of the premiums they paid (these percentages are set to increase in 2014). The maximum credit is available to the smallest employers -- those with ten or fewer employees with average annual wages of less than $25,000.
A provision of the law called the Early Retiree Reinsurance Program gives a subsidy to employers that provide health care coverage to retirees who do not yet qualify for Medicare (those between the ages of 55 and 64). Coverage for spouses, surviving spouses, and dependents of the retiree is also covered. The subsidy will cover up to 80% of claims incurred after June 1, 2010, but only after the retiree has made at least $15,000 in annual claims. (And the subsidy cuts off once the retiree has made $90,000 in annual claims.)
Plan sponsors must apply for this subsidy. This is a temporary program, scheduled to end on January 1, 2014, when retirees will be able to get insurance through state insurance exchanges. However, the program has a limited budget, to be paid out on a first-come, first-served basis.
For plan years that begin on October 1, 2010 or later, new restrictions and requirements apply to health care plans. There are more requirements for new plans; existing (grandfathered) plans won't have to comply with all of these requirements right away.
Here are some of the requirements that will apply to existing plans:
Additional requirements for grandfathered plans will start in 2014.
New plans will have to comply with the rules for existing plans, along with some additional requirements, including:
Again, additional requirements will apply in 2014.
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